Republicans throughout the state of California collectively groaned in the fall of 2018 when Alex Villanueva ousted nonpartisan Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Villanueva was a Democrat with no command experience in law enforcement who had campaigned on cushy promises of police reform, increased diversity, and community policing. Such buzzwords sounded eerily similar to those of progressives running for office at the same time, leading many to believe he would be weak on crime and exacerbate the county’s growing social decay.
Despite the overwhelming amount of grassroots Democratic support that led to his election, Sheriff Villanueva has recently become Public Enemy #1 for the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council, and many Democrats across the county. In the past, Democratic groups have cited Villanueva’s lack of regard for oversight and ongoing officer-involved shootings in the wake of the George Floyd protests as justification for calls for his resignation. Recently, scapegoating of Villanueva by county Democrats has occurred as a result of his firm public stances against vagrancy throughout his jurisdiction in Southern California.
A Visible Reminder?
The homeless problem in California is one of the most apparent stains on its reputation throughout the country. Despite being a regional issue on the entire West Coast, Los Angeles County, in particular, has been criticized for its hands-off, laissez-faire attitude toward the problem. Homeless encampments have sprung up across the county, sprawling over dozens of sidewalks and underpasses throughout various cities and leaving business owners in those areas to fend for themselves. Aside from recent dispersals of encampments in communal areas like Echo Park Lake, the Los Angeles Police Department has been restricted from enforcing vagrancy laws without providing suitable housing for those being displaced, a challenging task when the homeless can instead refuse to be housed.
Last week, Sheriff Villanueva took it upon himself to begin enforcing vagrancy laws as politicians have refused to do thus far. Residents in Venice Beach had been calling for assistance from city officials in dealing with the tent city, going mostly unheard until now. Mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino had even been threatened with a knife by a homeless woman during a press conference regarding potential reforms to alleviate the homeless crisis.
Villanueva sparked waves of Democratic anger upon announcing his intentions to “reclaim and regulate public space for the community.” Immediately, officers from the sheriff’s department descended on the beach, performing outreach with many of the homeless to understand their reasons for living in the encampment. The sheriff’s actions have been welcomed by business owners and residents in the area, who believe they are now receiving the assistance they had been denied for months by the Los Angeles City Council and County Board of Supervisors.
A Political Problem
Those on the far left seem infuriated by the apparent commitment of an elected public official to law and order. City Councilman Mike Bonin, widely criticized as a primary architect of the county’s lax approach to the crisis, lashed out at Sheriff Villanueva for supposedly politicizing the homeless dilemma. Supporters of the sheriff say the disaster on Venice Beach can be laid at the feet of Bonin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who have been complicit in preventing law enforcement officers from doing their job and ignoring threats to public safety in their communities.
With billions in taxpayer dollars being wasted on the homeless crisis in Los Angeles alone, everyday citizens have grown tired of vagrants setting up elaborate tent cities in their neighborhoods. Cleanups that revived Echo Park Lake showed tons of waste, trash, and used needles left by those evicted from the communal area.
Reclaiming these areas is an issue of collective well-being, and countless residents of Los Angeles County have signaled support for any new efforts to improve the quality of life in their communities.
Read more from Jose Backer.